For most people, it’s a natural instinct to do what we can to avoid that unwelcoming feeling of being trapped. We don’t paint (or mop) ourselves into corners. We take backroads to bypass gridlock. Heck, some of us even steer clear of turtlenecks.

So the idea that a group of people would voluntarily lock themselves into a room for an hour – with nothing but their wits to set them free – seems to go against the very fabric of our being.

But that’s exactly what makes escape rooms so captivating.

Last Escape
The medium/guide who helps “The Last Escape” participants stay focused on their mission. Photo credit: Phyllis Diamond Simons of SimplySimonsPhotography

Within the past year, Tacoma has become home to now two successful escape rooms, organized by Adventures by Appointment in downtown Tacoma and Fort Nisqually in Point Defiance Park, respectively.

The diversity in both location and delivery of these two escape rooms speaks to just how unique the escape room experience is.

Yet while each escape room has its own script, actors, props and purpose, the premise is relatively the same – a group of people are locked inside a room. They’re then given clues – or charged with finding these clues – designed to help them piece together a story or solve a mystery. If they achieve their goal before their time expires, the door will unlock and they’ll emerge as victors.

Escape rooms require problem-solving skills, collaboration, communication and a bit of luck. It’s no wonder they’re often used as a team-building exercise. But you don’t have to be a team of eight to sign up. Whether you have a partner in crime or prefer to brave it alone, everyone and anyone can fall in love with the idea of feeling trapped.

Getting to know Tacoma’s escape rooms

Adventures by Appointment

Tacoma’s lone year-round escape room is organized by Adventures by Appointment, which holds their events at the historic post office building (now called Court House Square) in the heart of downtown Tacoma.

The Last Escape Tacoma
The setting of “The Last Escape” organized by Adventures by Appointment. Photo credit: Phyllis Diamond Simons of SimplySimonsPhotography

The Last Escape was the first escape room the group created, and was my first ever experience with this phenomenon. In The Last Escape, you and your group are brought to the parlor room of an infamous medium to have your tarot cards read. It becomes obvious (thanks to some interesting sights and sounds) that your group is not alone in the room. The spirit of a magician is trapped and needs your help to be set free. Set free the spirit in time, and you and your fellow sleuths can escape the room yourselves.

The success of The Last Escape led Adventures by Appointment to create a second escape room, The Scorpion Extraction, which has an entirely different plot, characters and challenges. In fact, the group is in the works to add a third escape room to their repertoire.

To learn more, visit Adventures by Appointment’s website or email them at adventuresbyappointment@gmail.com. Events take place at 1102 S A Street in Tacoma.

Trapped: Escape Fort Nisqually

Located within one of the fort’s historic buildings, this escape room, known as Trapped: Escape Fort Nisqually, embraces history by sending participants back in time, to an era before Netflix, smartphones and even electricity.

Fort Nisqually Escape Room
Riddle-solving by candlelight. Fort Nisqually brings the escape room experience to the 19th century. Photo courtesy: Fort Nisqually

Team members race against the clock as they sift through documents and artifacts to piece together a mystery that’ll help them unlock the door and reemerge into the 21st century.

Trapped is a collaboration between Metro Parks and Portland-based Labyrinth Escape Rooms. Andrew Lind, who founded Labyrinth, had previously volunteered with Fort Nisqually Living History Museum. He reconnected with the museum years later, after learning that the museum was interested in bringing something unique to its visitors.

Part of what makes Trapped unique is that it boasts no modern technology and no behind-the scenes tricks. It is 100 percent time-period appropriate.

“It’s the only analog game that we know of,” said Jim Lauderdale, Fort Nisqually Museum Supervisor. “We wanted to let people experience the 1850s, and what it was like to be in a fur trade post in the dark, in a cabin – a real life experience.”

I can attest to the authenticity. When our group participated, we relied on lanterns to cast a dull light on notes written on parchment that we had to use to escape the room.

Trapped: Escape Fort Nisqually demonstrates just how popular escape rooms have become. The museum introduced the idea as a way to attract new audiences, folks who might not have ever visited the museum or whose last visit was for a grade-school field trip.

“We found only one other history museum in the U.S. running [an escape room],” said Lauderdale. “And that’s Colonial Williamsburg – which is like the largest living history museum in the country. It was a good indicator we’re on the right track.”

While this year’s Trapped events have passed, Fort Nisqually intends on bringing it back next year, due to its incredible success. Tickets will likely be available starting in November, and the escape rooms will be held from January through March. Tickets can be purchased online. Fort Nisqually is located within Point Defiance Park in Tacoma.

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